Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducts Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Anton Bruckner
LABELS: LPO
ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
CATALOGUE NO: LPO 0090

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It’s possible to be too preoccupied with architecture in Bruckner. This was a man who described himself as ‘fiery’, and christened his Fourth Symphony ‘Romantic’. As for the monumental Fifth, in private Bruckner referred to this as his ‘Fantastic’ Symphony. It’s a very special performance that can combine grandeur, warmth of feeling and the kind of unsettling playfulness the nickname implies. But Stanislaw Skrowaczewski achieves it so resoundingly it makes one wonder why so many others struggle, or just miss the point. Sudden changes of direction or tempo in the first movement and Scherzo – normally so painful to non-fans – feel like a kind of elemental teasing. But there’s also a personal intensity in the Adagio that adds pathos to the final failed climax: Skrowaczewski brings out not only the sense of the gradual unfolding of Divine Providence, but the troubled human being struggling to make sense of it. 

It would have been an unqualified five stars but for two things. Firstly the deliberate accentuation in the Finale’s huge fugue does become heavy quite quickly, and the momentum flags. And I’m not sure about the sudden piano-crescendo in the final bars. Yes it does allow us to hear a normally inaudible flute figure, but I’m not convinced. A shame, as Skrowaczewski’s ear of tiny but telling details is such a delight elsewhere. It must have been great to hear this live, but as a repeatable CD version it stumbles ever so slightly at the final hurdle.

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Stephen Johnson